I woke up Saturday morning facedown in my pillow and in complete pain. Checking the mirror I realized that forgetting the sunscreen yesterday was a bigger problem than I had originally thought. My face was the color of a red brick wall, the nose emphasized by a white line leftover from sunglasses. I made a quick note to grab some SPF 45 before making my way out to Day 2 of ACL. First up on the list was Phoenix, an incredibly catchy group from Versailles, France, at 1:30 that afternoon. Being a fan of fellow Frenchmen and one-time collaborators AIR, I was particularly excited to have them start a much-anticipated day. Leaving myself plenty of time, I headed to my buddies’ house, a short walk from Zilker Park. Upon arriving he tells me we’ll be waiting for his two other friends to join us, they’ll only be a few minutes. So, being early I was content to wait. About 20 minutes later I was still waiting, watching the clock tick, as Phoenix’s start time rapidly approached. Roughly 10 minutes after that I gave up on seeing the French, and jumped ahead to anticipate Ben Kweller. The two finally showed up, and we headed out the door, into the bright hot sun.
After a warm walk and stop for drinks we entered the festival, just in time to see Kweller headed offstage, soaked in blood. Visibly confused we asked a bystander.
“When did Ben Kweller get heavy metal?”
“He’s not, just got a nose-bleed.”
Turns out, Kweller’s “allergies” caused a pretty nasty nosebleed, resulting in a performance 10 minutes late and 20 minutes short. With his fuzz of reddish hair and clad in denim, he looked to me like a beat up Dave Mustaine. At this point we decided that nothing could make us want to eat more than Ben Kweller shoving a tampon up his nose to stop the bleeding (I guess it was pretty bad). Besides, The Blue Van were in the thick of their set over at Austin Ventures stage, so it seemed like a perfect place to finish off some BBQ.
The Danish rock outfit blasted their way into our ears like a Swingin’ 60′s psychedelic experience, and when bassist Allan Villadsen climbed atop the keys to execute one of the best Rock jumps I’d ever seen (his ankles reached lead singer Steffen Westmark’s head), I was hooked. Their set ended too soon, but with the realization that TV on the Radio would be setting up next I quickly got over it. We made our way up to a nice position for one of the more captivating live acts around.
When the group hit the stage, hipsters and newcomers alike shouted with joy. You could see the happiness building in guitarist Kyp Malone’s eyes with the buzz of the crowd. It’s hard to get the image of a teddy bear out of my head every time I see him. Letting the music speak for itself, TVotR pounded and reverberated the crap out of Austin Ventures and the rock wall behind it. Driving through “Wolf Like Me” and “Dreams,” they pleased everyone in the surprisingly large crowd. It was good to see so many people enjoying such an exciting band. Being totally pleased with the set 3/4 of the way through, my friend and I decided we’d head over to catch the tail end of The Shins, not that far away.
Having never actually seen them live, I was pretty excited. The Shins have a certain air of positivity about their music that renders it instantly likeable. So it was slightly disappointing when we actually saw the crowd that had showed up to see them. I guess I should thank Zach Braff. We managed to work a third of the way up one side, cut through the center (angering a few folks, understandably) and make our way to the halfway point. Deciding it was probably more comfortable to just listen, we headed back to a much less claustrophobic plot. Not a particularly exciting set, but it was nice to listen to. At one point they played a new song off their forthcoming record, urging everyone to take video or pictures with their cameras or phones. They could then be sent in to The Shins, who will apparently be making their new video with the clips. I wonder if they’d use footage of a robust man’s backside.
With a couple of hours to spare in between bands we cared to see, we wandered through some of the amenities the festival had to offer. There was the “Digital Oasis,” an air-conditioned tent with big screen TVs showing college football, laptops to mess around with, and tiny battery-operated fans (brought to you by AT&T). We then scuttled past the Gibson guitar tent, still slightly paranoid about the guitar I may or may not have broken the day before, and headed to the Waterloo record store. After catching a glimpse of The Secret Machines giving an autograph session we decided to make our way to Kings of Leon.
To get to the King’s stage we had to navigate through String Cheese Incident’s fans, which had its perks. Hippies young and old swayed to the jam band as we wound our way around blankets and chairs to find the edge of the crowd, and what looked to be a dead body. Upon closer inspection, half of his right eye was open and a faint groaning noise seemed to be coming from his direction. We took that as a sign he was all right, and secured a spot for Kings of Leon.
Having seen them the night before at Emo’s, I wasn’t exactly aching for more, but I was happy to hear them explode onstage. They started the show off with just about the same set list as their pre-ACL gig, and a new slightly punk influenced rocker, complete with that shrill Followill scream. The family ripped through their set as usual, not stopping to talk except for an introduction about 4 songs in. Leon-ed out, we headed back to the Ventures stage to catch the beginning of Texans, Explosions in the Sky. The night had settled in, and the rocky backdrop of the stage was the perfect setting to catch these space rockers. The wall of sound emitting from the stage was quite a punch in the face, and sitting down really helped. It was almost heartbreaking to listen, not because the music was terrible, or because I was so badly sunburned, it just sounded so tragic. The woman next to me was crying. Like the most intense scenes from Requiem for a Dream, Schindler’s List and Rambo: First Blood Part II, Explosions in the Sky literally tore open the crowd. Seeking relief after half an hour, we left and made our way to Massive Attack and another mass of people.
Having already started their show, we took our time in joining another group of friends about half way into the crowd. The setup on stage looked amazing. A giant wall of lights closely resembling the set up in Coldplay’s “Speed of Sound” video encompassed the back half of the stage. Neon lights cast a blue and red haze over the front section of people. Sitting back and relaxing, the music floated through the night like a fuzzy laser show. I don’t pretend to know anything about Massive Attack, the only song I know is “Teardrop,” but what I heard I loved. I stated earlier that I am a fan of AIR, and this felt along the same lines, just a little more troubled. The darker edge seemed to fit well with the night. With the end of their set came the end of day two, and it was long walk back to meet my ride. Yes, it was my mom, and yes a couple of women laughed as I got in the car, but at least I didn’t have to wait in the thick line for the shuttles. I relished being driven home, already planning out day three.
Day Two Bands:
By Kyle Rother